The Barbed-Wire College: Reeducating German POWs in the United States during World War II

By Ron Robin | Go to book overview
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Preface and Acknowledgments

THIS STUDY of one of the many government-sponsored intellectual enterprises of World War II began as a somewhat predictable attempt to assess the success of indoctrination efforts among the 380,000 German POWs incarcerated in the continental United States during the war years. I rapidly discovered that my attempts to formulate objective measurements of the program's accomplishments were of little significance. Claims for the profound cultural transformation of German POWs during World War II were suspect and unsubstantiated. Moreover, many historical examples, from the United States and elsewhere, provided ample evidence that the very concept of reeducation was an elusive if not ineffectual political weapon.

Not wanting to devote an entire book to damning American reeducation officials for being presumptuous or misleading, I have, instead, attempted to understand why they would claim success for this manifestly ineffectual project. The answer appears to be that these mobilized professors believed that they had accomplished an assignment that was far more important than the formal military mission of democratizing a benighted enemy. The transformation of the original mission of reeducation into a more personally meaningful task is, then, the subject of this historical investigation.

In writing this book I have benefited from the kindness and knowledge of colleagues, friends, and anonymous readers. Many years ago Gunther Barth taught me the craft of writing history; he is partly responsible for my interest in the study of reeducation and German POWs. Richard Hill and my father, Eli Robin, were early readers and exacting critics. William L. O'Neill pointed out some crucial weaknesses in the original draft of this book. Winfried Fluk and Haim Shatzker guided me toward a broad understanding of German culture at mid-century. I gained much perspective from conversations with Paul Flemer and Andy Heinze. Willi Paul Adams, James Long, and Daniel Krauskopf, were, as always, supportive and helpful. Yariv and Leora Zultan provided indispensable aid in deciphering some of the torpid German prose I came across. I owe a special debt to two individuals whom I have never met, Arnold Krammer and Judith Gansberg. Their pioneering studies on the German POW experience in the United States provided me with background, and much food for thought. While wandering around the United States in search of archival material, I enjoyed the hospitality of many friends, in particular Fred


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The Barbed-Wire College: Reeducating German POWs in the United States during World War II


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